The Trump administration has put itself on collision course with the world’s major powers, saying it will declare this weekend a reimposition of virtually all international sanctions on Iran that were due to be lifted under the 2015 nuclear deal.
Britain, Germany and France — all of whom have spent years resisting President Trump’s efforts to undo the nuclear deal — are expected to side with China and Russia on the U.N. Security Council in rejecting any demand by Washington to “snap back” the sanctions on Iran that were supposed to be expire soon under the terms of the 2015 deal negotiated by the Obama administration.
Under that deal, Iran agreed to curb its nuclear programs in exchange for the lifting of economic and security sanctions.
The Trump White House so far has found little international support for its hard-line position, with even allies arguing Washington had no standing to affect the deal’s implementation after President Trump renounced the agreement two years ago.
The expiring sanctions include a ban on new military sales to Tehran, which the Trump administration has said it is determined to prevent.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has argued Iran has clearly violated the 2015 agreement by carrying out ballistic missile tests, supporting terrorism around the Middle East and continuing to enrich atomic material needed for a nuclear bombs. U.S. officials say Washington still has standing to invoke the snapback provision as an original signatory to the deal.
After the U.N. Security Council rejected the American position last month, Mr. Pompeo announced via Twitter that the U.S. had officially “triggered the 30-day process to restore virtually all U.N. sanctions on Iran.”
Elliot Abrams, the State Department point man on Iran, confirmed to reporters Wednesday that the sanctions will go back into force this Sunday.
What happens after that is a huge questions mark.
“We don’t need any other country to go along with us,” Mr. Pompeo said, but whether and how the U.S. can enforce global sanctions unilaterally is unclear.
Iran has mocked what it calls the Trump’s administration isolated stand on the question, and the other members of the U.N. Security Council, including U.S. allies, have vowed to ignore the administration’s declaration of a sanctions snapback.
Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif taunted Mr. Pompeo on Twitter, predicting Washington will face a fresh humiliation as this weekend’s deadline approaches.
“Wrong again, Secretary Pompeo,” Mr. Zarif tweeted. “Nothing new happens on 9/20.”
That sets the stage for an ugly diplomatic confrontation as United Nations prepares to celebrate its 75th anniversary at the upcoming annual General Assembly session next week. Owing to COVID-19, the gathering will not feature live speeches but prepared online video messages from leaders around the world.
The question now is how the Trump administration will respond if its sanctions snapback declaration is ignored by others on the Security Council.
Washington has already has slapped extensive unilateral sanctions on Iran as part of the administration’s withdrawal from the “Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action,” or JCPOA — moves Iran has cited to justify a gradual breaking of the limits on its nuclear program.
The White House could move to impose economic penalties on countries that don’t enforce the Iran sanctions, but such a move risks triggering an embarrassing, wholesale rejection of the U.S. position at the world body just weeks before the presidential election. In the August Security Council vote on sanctions, only the Dominican Republic backed the U.S. position on the 15-member Council.
Mr. Trump plans to address Iran in a speech to the General Assembly on Tuesday.
The administration has failed to rally the international community around the need to keep the embargo in place, even as nonpartisan analysts point to troubling new activities by the Tehran regime.
A report released Thursday by the Alliance for Securing Democracy at the German Marshall Fund of the United States shined a fresh spotlight on cyberattacks it said are being carried out by Iranian military and intelligence operatives, as well as “information manipulation” and “malign finance” operations being undertaken by Tehran.
But the vast majority of the Security Council and all but about five of the U.N.’s 195 member states say the U.S. lost its legal standing to act on sanctions against Iran when Mr. Trump withdrew from the nuclear accord more than two years ago, and they say that Iran had largely adhered to the deal prior to the U.S. 2018 withdrawal.
The U.N. sanctions the U.S. is seeking to reimpose include a ban on uranium enrichment and all ballistic missile activity, as well as the preservation of the arms embargo that would otherwise expire on Oct. 18.
European powers France, Germany and Britain — who have tried to keep the nuclear accord alive despite Mr. Trump’s opposition — have tried to broker a compromise but are expected in the end to oppose the U.S. snapback proposal.
While the Britain has appeared to be the most willing of the group to align with the Trump administration’s position, British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab has avoided saying anything specific on the matter during a visit to Washington this week.
Appearing beside Mr. Pompeo at State Department headquarters on Wednesday, Mr. Raab said London “shares the U.S. concerns about Iran and the Iranian threat both on the nuclear side of things but also the wider destabilizing activities in the region.”
But he acknowledged that there “may be shades of difference” between the British and U.S. over how to negotiate a more comprehensive deal with Iran.
In his own remarks Wednesday, Mr. Pompeo said that Iran “remains the world’s largest state sponsor of terrorism and we don’t believe that them being able to trade in weapons of war with impunity is remotely acceptable.” He called the U.S. decision to reimpose sanctions “good for the peoples of all nations.”
An influential Iranian dissident organization praised the administration Thursday for pushing ahead with the sanctions snap back strategy.
If the sanctions are not reimposed, the price will be paid by common Iranians because the ruling regime will use money it gets from international commercial dealings to “ramp up suppression” of Iran’s populace, said Alireza Jafarzadeh, a spokesman for the Paris-based National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), an organization that advocates for the overthrow of Iran’s current government.
NCRI is hosting a virtual event Friday morning that organizers say will feature remarks from more than a dozen U.S. lawmakers on the dangers the Iranian regime poses to the region and the world.
“What emboldens the Iranian regime to advance its destructive policies is appeasement,” Mr. Jafarzadeh told The Washington Times on Thursday.
But others argue the Trump administration is playing with fire by defying international opinion and acting without the assent of the U.N. or the signatories to the deal.
“Enforcement would entail U.S. warships attacking and confiscating Iranian cargo ships in international waters,” predicts Trita Parsi, a leader of the Quincy Institute and an outspoken cheerleader for the Obama-era nuclear deal with Iran.
“The vast majority of the international community, as well as the other states in the U.N. Security Council, will forcefully reject the notion that the U.S. is acting on behalf of the Council and will regard the U.S.’s conduct as unlawful acts of aggression,” Mr. Parsi claimed in an article published on the institute’s website this week.
“If the Trump administration starts targeting Iranian vessels in the Persian Gulf or near the Strait of Hormuz, the risk of a confrontation with Iranian naval forces will significantly increase,” he wrote, adding that Tehran may “retaliate against U.S. ships or those of its Arab security partners in the Persian Gulf.”
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